I learned to begin each season of ministry with a game plan (thanks Ministry Architects!). In previous years, the Advent game plan was like a favorite holiday recipe handed down through the generations. It works. People like it. Don’t change it. Advent planning in COVID doesn’t have any such recipe. But, the events and ministry we plan are still grounded in the “why.”
Our “why” is to help people encounter the hope, joy, peace and love of Jesus Christ through interactive, safe, engaging, practices that weary families can participate in together. I assume that the reservations about indoor worship and faith formation will only strengthen as colder Midwest weather approaches. I anticipate that there will be continued sadness about not being able to participate in beloved traditions and limited ability to see loved ones.
With this in mind, here are some ingredients for any successful Advent recipe in a pandemic:
Safety first. There’s been plenty written on that and each area of the United States has varying degrees of ability to gather. Enough said.
Maintaining Rituals and Traditions
What are the things your congregation holds dear? Are there ways to adapt them safely? The pageant is an important ritual for children and families at the church I serve. This year we are shifting the pageant to an outdoor live nativity. While this won’t be the same, it offers an opportunity to tell the same story of Jesus’ birth. And, we are hoping to add something new and exciting this year because we are outside: live animals! Illustrated Ministry and Tumbuh Kids both have online pageant resources if you are looking for those.
Engaging & “High Touch” Opportunities
We are both Zoomed out and unable to gather in person as we once did. This is truly tough. One thing we have learned is that families embrace the hands-on activities available to them. For this reason, we are creating “Advent Boxes” for families. Ours will not contain a lot of paper because we fear it might come across as “homework.” Instead, ours will have a few beautiful objects related to another beloved tradition: Advent candles. Here is what we plan to include:
- Small mason jars and candles that we will use to create a “wreath” while gathered online. Click here for downloadable sticker labels.
- Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas by Laura Alary
- An Advent calendar where you open a new Bible verse each day.
- A small treat to share during online fellowship time
- A glow stick or 3-D glasses for Christmas Eve
Traci Smith and Building Faith both have more, wonderful Advent box ideas. And, I’ve collected 13 Free Family Advent Activities here.
Keep it Short and Simple
Often, the weeks leading up to Christmas are a whirlwind of stress. Perhaps, this year, we are being offered the grace of letting go of all the holiday expectations from years past. This fall, families have appreciated shorter online or in-person gatherings. In Advent, we will offer an online time to gather together to light our mason jar Advent candles and hear a short story. I will also continue to create short, 3 minute videos that help children prepare for online worship. I believe that this is enough. May the Holy Spirit use this simple, meaningful moments to draw children and families into the wonder and peace of this time when we prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus, our Savior, once again.
More Advent Resources from Christine V. Hides:
An Engaging Advent Evening for Youth Group
Advent Worship Banners for Year B
Mary’s Song Images for Social Media
Mason Jar Advent Devotional- original
Mason Jar Advent Devotional – updated in 2017
Jesse Tree Advent skit published on Building Faith
Jesse Tree ornament ideas on Pinterest
Reflections and Prayers:
Annunciation – for the Regular People
And a personal story about the beauty of imperfection during holiday preparations
In charge of the pageant? Check out this survival guide on Building Faith
An impromptu pageant script can be found here.
Most years I gather the children up front during the family service and read a picture book with the illustrations projected for the adults to see. I suggest
The Shoemakers Dream by Schell- out of print but a beautiful retelling of Tolstoy’s “Where God is, Love is”
To Whom the Angel Spoke by Terry Kay is a very inclusive story of the shepherds. The book is tiny, so enlarging it is key.
Looking for beautiful, handmade gifts that children can create? Check these out: